New York based Howardena Pindell is an American abstract artist whose work deals with issues of feminism, racism, slavery, and exploitation. Pindell’s work over the last fifty years ranged from her early representational paintings, such as self-portraits, still-life paintings, and urban scenes, to the densely collaged abstract canvases she produced starting in the late 1960s and videos in the 1980s.
The hole punch has been Pindell’s favorite tool. She used it to modify sheets of metal and paper, turning them into spray paint stencils. She then used the leftover confetti-like disks to make pointillist collages with added glitter, talcum powder, etc. She also made blurry, enigmatic “Video Drawings” where she photographed TV screens overlaid with sheets of acetate, scattered with tiny, hand-drawn numbers.
Pindell received a B.F.A. at Boston University where she trained as a figurative academic painter. At Yale University, where she got her M.F.A., she began to shift away from figuration into Abstract Expressionism under the influence of Al Held, one of the teachers, and Helen Frankenthaler, a visiting artist who was encouraging to her.
In 1967, she applied for a teaching position. She sent out 50 applications and received 50 rejections. When she came to New York, she was looking for any job she could find and wound up in the vibrant New York art scene where Abstract Expressionism was being revived. When she discovered that she was allergic to oil paint, she turned to acrylic and spray paint.
In 1979, Pindell suffered a shattering memory loss from a near-fatal car accident. Her work became more autobiographical as she tried to heal herself and piece together her lost memories. Eight months after the accident, Pindell made a 12-minute video “Free, White, and 21.” It is Pindell’s best-known video as it details the racism both she and her mother endured throughout their lives. She portrays the two main characters: herself and the bigoted white woman as referenced in the video’s title. Pindell wears a mask and a blonde wig as her white character dismisses the experiences of racism, relayed in the video.
Her installation “Hunger” deals with the use of New York canals as conduits for abolitionists to transport and house slaves during the 18th century. It includes a set of 18th-century shackles used on enslaved children.
A professor at Stony Brook University since 1979 Pindell constantly addresses racism and sexism that she faced in the art world. She and Carolyn Martin founded “Entitled: Black Women Artists,” a co-operative for only black female artists. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is in the permanent collections of MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, Newark Museum, Fogg Museum in Boston, and the Whitney Museum.